1 Walsh 2016

^ Mayor Walsh does not look happy (photo Masslive)

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Two City of Boston officials, Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan, now ind themselves in hot water for acts that neither man may have fully understood the consequences of. I suspect they now know. I suspect, too, that other officials in City Hall know that operating a government is not a license to browbeat those you are dealing with.

Si here we are ; the United states Attorney has charged Brissette, the City’;s director of tourism and special events, and Tim Sullivam, administrator for inter-governmental affairs, with violating a Federal statute 18 USC 1951, of which I quote the relevant language dealing with extortion :

“(a) Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by… extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or …threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

“(2) The term “extortion” means the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.”

The full statute can be read here :

If the facts alleged in the revised Federal indictment are true, the Statute is clearly violated. The two men are said to have told an entertainment company that they would not deliver it the entertainment license which said company had already obtained in full compliance with applicable Boston City ordinance, unless said company hired workers it did not need or wish to hire, at extra expense to itself.

The two men are said to have done what they did despite being informed, in writing, by two (2) officials, one from the State, one from their own boss, the City’s Director of Operations, that they could not withhold the license.

Defenders of Brissette an d Sullivan argue that they did not violate the statute because they sought no money r themselves, only for others. The argument is without merit. Sincve when is it not extortion for A to threaten B on behalf of C ? In the classic criminal case, a leg breaker tells a bookie to pay his debt to some sort of crime boss. The leg breaker isn’t seeking this payment or himself; yet he is surely an extortioner.

In the instant case, the funds that Brissette and Sullivan are accused of extorting were to be paid to certain persons whom they demanded the entertainment company to hire. In some respects this extortion is even more serious tha the leg breaker case. In that event, the money was at least in fact owed; here, the money was demanded gratuitously to individuals who had no idea, until informed, that it might be coming to them.

Clearly rissette and Sullivan, both good men who try to serve Mayor Walsh loyally, wated to help a Union, Local 11, get work. that is a laudavle mission. Workers should get work, and City officials certainly have a right to advocate for them. For a mayor whose core loyalty is to Labor, ad who served as a Labor leader prior to winning election, assisting union members to get work is a priority; and that is OK. Yet priority does not justify what Brissette and Sullivan are accused of attempting. Perhaps they meant well; but to have continued to withhold a permit fully complied with after being informed by the two officials that they could bot do so was an act foolish and more than foolish. It was intentional.

Defenders of the two men say that there is “no right” to a permit and so no extortion. Yet a look at the City’;s own language, in a recenta nnouncement (March 4, 2016), contains no hint that the issuance of an entertainment permit entails the applicant hiring union employees favored by City officials :

Click to access CAP%20Announcement_tcm3-53050.pdf

If City hall wishes to make hiring union employees favired by it a condition of obtaining an entertainment license, it needs to say so; and to pursue the home rule petition that would be need to legalize any such requirement. I doubt any such home rule petition would get far. Even the state’s prevailing wage law, for construction contracts, re quires only that a company pay the standard wage for union contracts. It does not order such contractor to hire specific employees preferred by it.

We have seen this sort of union organizing before. two years ago a City Councillor mobilized some of his constituents to protest a hotel project and demand that said hotel, once built, hire only union workers. The hotel developer withdrew his project, as well he should. (I have no problem at all with the hotel workers union, a well run union and smart; but it is not for a City official to demand Local 26 be hired as a condition of the project.) At the opposite end, we have seen alleged the Teamsters using violent acts to extort jobs from companies shooting movies in our City. These events are spoken of in the Brissette-Sullivan indictment, as a concurrent action, one which Brissette and Sillivan are not said to have decried even once.

The union local on whose behalf Brissette and Sullivan are accused of extorting is very lucky, I think, that it is not facing indictment as well. Though initially unaware of the moves being made on its behalf, the indictment alleges that said union became aware of what Brissette and Sullivan were doing and, so ar as the indictment tells us, uttered not one word of warning that Brissette and Sullivan were going too far. I suppose that the union is off the hook because it did not know precisely what was being done on its behalf.

Yet from comments being posted online by some union leaders and supporters, I wonder whether City Hall will not feel emboldened to attempt requiring that applicants for permits hire union workers favored by City hall as a condition of their applications being granted. If such a policy is being advanced, it will engender enormous backlash, and probably should. Government has no business taking sides in the bargaining and hiring process other than to ensure fairness.

Observers are saying that the Walsh administration needs to bring in wise hands who know what they can do and can’t do, who don’t translate good intentions into potential crimes. Yet the Walsh administration had a “wise old hand” on its team : the “director of operations” who informed Brissette and Sullivan that they could not do what they ended up doing. That person, a veteran of the Menino administration (in whose twenty years not one City official was ever charged with official crime) has since left the administration — reportedly after losing out to the City’s director of staff — and has not been taken back aboard.

That’s hardly a great precedent for the prospect of Walsh bringing aboard “wise old hands” who have the gravitas to temper Walsh’s passion and see that it does not get him in trouble. I can think of several such, who supported Walsh in his 2013 election, and one in particular, who knows what can and can’t be done. We’ll see if said person, or someone of equal reputation, is allowed into Walsh’s youngish inner circle.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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